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January 25, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Sounders FC quote sheet: Schmid, Keller and Zakuani

SIGI SCHMID, head coach

(On the first practice) “Always on the first day everybody is going to come out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. The guys who have done work will feel pretty good tomorrow and the guys who haven’t done a lot of work are going to wake up tomorrow morning and say, ‘What did I do yesterday? Was I crazy or what?’ But I thought it was good. I thought the spirit was good. I thought the intensity was good. Everybody showed up to play.”

(On depth of roster and making a roster spot) “It’s going to be difficult. We talked about that. We said how much different is this than two years ago. As you are building a team, that’s what it’s going to take. So now you’re looking for somebody with something a little special. Somebody that can add something that you are missing and maybe don’t have. I think a couple of guys have shown that. We have got to add some guys anyways because the roster expands so I feel pretty good about the quality of the players we are looking at to fill those spots.”

(What’s the something special you’re looking for?) “You never know what the something special is. For everybody it’s something different. Maybe it’s a guy who finishes well. Maybe it’s a guy who’s able to take somebody off the dribble and get a cross in. Maybe it’s a guy who just make really good defensive plays. It could be a guy who’s really good at heading. It could be somebody who just has good vision and connects his passes. It’s not like you’re looking at any one special trait. You’re looking for someone who adds something, but that might be a different quality depending on the player.”

(Anyone not 100-percent healthy?) “Nate Jaqua is still recovering right now. [Pat] Noonan is still recovering. We want to see how Blaise [Nkufo] feels tomorrow. O’Brian White is somebody that we are trying to bring along fitness-wise. Today is the first day he went through a whole training, even though he came in earlier. I thought he looked sharp, as did Blaise. I think we have just got to build up their fitness at the right time. Injury-wise it’s really only Jaqua, Noonan and then [Taylor] Graham has a little bit of an issue right now.”

(Is the team healthier going into this season than last?) “Well we got some injuries early last year after we started play, so I think going in — unless my memory serves me incorrectly — we’re about the same with the exception of Jaqua, who had an injury that we weren’t making any good, forward progress with. This year he’s had the surgery and we know exactly what it is. He’s exactly where he should be at this point. So from that standpoint we can continue to build on it. Overall I think we’re healthy.”

(How’s Hurtado doing?) “It’s the same sort of thing with him coming off the length of time he was injured. Today was his first practice. When we get down to Arizona and we start doing double-days, he’ll probably do one training with us and another training he’ll do something else. Same thing with a Brad Evans and all of the guys that are easing their way back into it. It’s a mistake when you’ve been out for that amount of time to say, ‘OK, you’re going to do what everybody else has done?’ and then all of a sudden they break down with something else. We’ll ease them back into it.”

(Any newcomers impress?) “Yeah, but that’s for me to keep to myself right now. Like I said, there are some guys that can certainly play midfield. There are some guys who have shown they can finish. There are a couple guys who have shown they can defend. It’s been good.”

(On having a core group of players return) “Obviously that’s very important. It’s what I told the guys before we came out here to practice. I said, ‘This is year three. We have a core of players.’ We went around and said, ‘How many guys have been here now for three years?’ And there were a number of hands that got up. I said, ‘This is the year now that you have got to step forward.’ We are one of only four teams that have made the playoffs the last two years, which is a great accomplishment. We’re the first expansion team to win a trophy in each of our first two years, that’s a great accomplishment. But in four playoff games we have scored one goal so we need to score more goals in the playoffs. To score more goals in the playoffs we need to score more goals in the regular season. To score more goals in the regular season we need to score more goals in practice. This is the year that if we don’t accomplish some of the things we feel we can accomplish then you got to start looking at breaking up that core. So this is an important year.”

(Are their higher expectations this year?) “The higher expectation only comes from I think the pain in the gut is hopefully a little deeper from losing last year in the playoffs. We need to push ourselves just that little bit more. We have to draw, not necessarily a higher expectation of ourselves, what we need to do is demand more of ourselves, demand more of each other, demand more of our friends on the team and that’s got to be a theme that runs through us all season.”

(Is Year 3 here looking like Year 3 in Columbus so far?) “I hope it ends up exactly the same way. If it ends up that way I wouldn’t complain at all. I think the first two years we are much further along than we were in my first two years in Columbus. But at the end of year two in Columbus I felt we were starting to catch a good rhythm and at the end of year two here we obviously caught a good rhythm as well. I think we’re comparable in a lot of ways. But to win a championship you need a little bit of luck, you need a little bit of good fortune, staying away from injuries, and you need good soccer. You need all those things.”

KASEY KELLER, goalkeeper and captain

(Are you sentimental about this being the last first-day?) “It’s the first day of training, it’s just nice to get out. We had a good break, but it really wasn’t my first day. You always train 4-5 times before you come into preseason so you don’t come in the first day and look like an idiot. On that side of it I feel good. I had some good time inside at the VMAC and got ready to come out here with the rest of the team. It just felt good. It was a good day of training. Obviously there are new faces and new names to learn and that kind of thing, but a great core from the last few years and we feel very confident. But it’s early on obviously. It’s the first day of training for the whole group and just excited to get things rolling.”

(What needs to be here to get to the next level?) “I think there has to be just that little bit more intensity. At different times we had that. I think the run started to turn last year’s season around when we decided, ‘Look, we’re not going to let guys run, we’re not going to concede goals, we’re going to fight for everything for 90 minutes.’ When you do that you give yourselves a good chance. Obviously you have to have the talent and you have to put the goals away and you have to go on that of it as well. But for the most part you challenge for every ball, you chase down everything, you challenge for every header, for every cross, every tackle. Once you get that side of your game right then the rest of it falls into place.”

(Is preseason any different with Portland and Vancouver around?) “Not yet. I think that will come. I was at a Trailblazers game the other day and I had some nice seats. About halfway through the first quarter there’s a little bit of booing, a little something going on. I look up on the big screen and there’s a picture of me on the big screen: “Sounders goalkeeper.” And the crowd’s like “Boooo!” It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m excited about it. Obviously that’s going to be something everyone’s looking forward to, but what we can’t do is we can’t focus this whole season on four games. We need to focus on making sure that we step out and win every game. I know it sounds terrible, but I’d lose those four games and win the rest of it and win the MLS championship all day long. That’s not the plan, obviously, but our goal is to get to the playoffs, get out of the first round, get to the next round and win the championship. That’s our goal, not just beat Portland and Vancouver.”

(How important is it to have a core group come back?) “Huge. It always has to be important. The more people play with each other the more they learn, the more the communication is there, that side of it. At the same time we lost a couple players obviously that we’re going to miss, just like we did last year. Let’s see what the new faces look (like), bring a little fresh spark. But it’s always important to have that core that you’re happy with, that you know can really be that foundation that you can build on. Like I said, I think we’re all very happy with the core that we have here and it’s a big expectation to bring in a couple new faces that can really liven the thing up.”

(Any impressive new guys?) “It’s a little early. Talk to me in a week or so. I think the good thing is the attitude looks solid from Day 1. Guys were getting some tackles in, chasing, but I’ll be excited to see how they shape up in the next week or so.”

STEVE ZAKUANI, midfielder/forward

(On being back) “Of course it’s fun to be back. Those of us who walked off the field at the Home Depot Center in November, we’ve been looking forward to this day for a while, just because it’s a chance to start again fresh. It already feels like a new season, it’s not last season. It’s just good to get back out here. Obviously that pain is still there in some of us, but it’s going to be nice. It’s going to be a long two months, but today is just kind a day where you get your feet under you and start training again, greet some of the new guys that we haven’t seen before, then start our quest to try to get to an MLS Cup.”

(Are the expectations higher in Year 3?) “The expectations are always there, they’re always there. With this club, from Day 1 there were always expectations, from our fans and from ourselves. It’s always there, so that’s something we just have to learn to deal with. What we did in the second half of last year was set our own expectations within the club that we didn’t share with anybody else, and that was what kept us going and had a 10-2-3 record in the second half of the year. I think that’s what’s going to drive us this year, just knowing what we can accomplish. We definitely fell short last year, there’s no hiding from that. We can kind of say we won the Open Cup and Champions League was a new experience and we made the playoffs again, but we fell short. We’re a better team than that and we need to prove that this year. So our goals are going to stay the same; we want to win the MLS Cup. We can’t start the year thinking any differently. That’s what we’re going to push for, and today was just the first of many steps.”

(With uncertainty last year with the CBA and such, does this year feel more stable?) “More stable, but always the same. We have about 40 players training, and we know we won’t have 40 players with us during the season. Some faces we got used to seeing every day are not here anymore, and there are some new guys here. It’s stable in that sense, but it’s always a time of test in the preseason where you have the guys who have been here and know the coaching staff and know Sigi’s methods, and then you have the guys who are coming in new. So you want to make them feel welcome, you want to make sure they understand the Sounders standard, and at the same time you want to get yourself going so that you can be where you need to be on March 15.”

(Any newcomer grab your attention early?) “The first day it’s tough to say. I think they started training last week so other guys have seen them more than I have. I just saw them today. I like them, I like them all. I always say we welcome the best players to Seattle. Ask me on Friday and then I’ll let you know.”

(How was training at Everton?) “It was very good. Very good to be honest. The timing of it was kind of strange because England was hit with bad weather, so sometimes the pitch wasn’t available, we trained inside and stuff, and the team wasn’t doing too well at the time. They welcomed me fantastic there. David Moyes was great to work with, I enjoyed playing with the players there, and for 10 days there did very well there. I trained with the first team, played guys like (Steven) Pienaar, (Mikel) Arteta, Tim Cahill, Tim Howard, guys that are top players in their profession. I felt fine. It definitely made me hungrier, but at the same time, when I went there what I saw was that we’re not far behind, we’re not far off. Facilities, we have the same they have. We have good players here, they have good players there. Ask Ozzie, he was there too, he’ll tell you the same thing. There’s nothing really to be envious of from that perspective. They were actually showed a lot of interest in MLS. The main thing is just the speed of play. The speed of play is a little bit faster. I definitely enjoyed and it makes me hungrier to come back and have a good year here in Seattle.”


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